Week 53.1: Bozeman, Montana

After three days at glorious, crowded, beautiful, stinky Yellowstone, we had had our fill of the press of humanity for a while.  So we headed to Bozeman, Montana – because if you’re looking for a wonderful place to get away from other humans, it’s tough to beat Montana.

That’s true for most of Montana, anyway.  But Bozeman itself is actually a fantastic little city, a gem of a college town in a seriously rural state.  It reminded us of Ithaca, New York, a place we love, or a smaller version of Boulder, Colorado.  There was an incredibly cute evening farmer’s market, teenagers dressed to the nines; a hip breakfast spot with giant cinnamon rolls; and a funky coffee shop, where we listened in on the world’s most awkward first date.

In fact, the town is so charming that we found ourselves Googling things like “Reasons not to move to Bozeman.”  Turns out that multiple winter days colder than “10 degrees below zero” is a pretty compelling reason, but being there in the summer sure was nice.  The only downside was that we were parked on the edge of town, and somehow got no Internet through our Internet hotspot at all.  Took it out one day to test, and found out we were about 100 yards away from full service.

Ah well.  We were in Bozeman for 5 days anyway, 4 on purpose, and here’s what we did.

Lachingly Beautiful

Montana in general is beautiful, and the area around Bozeman is no different.  The outdoorsy options around here are top-notch.  We drove through a heavily wooded, steeply-sided canyon and parked in Gallatin Canyon for a hike to a place called Lava Lake.

The “Lava” levels were frankly disappointing, but we awarded top marks for “Lake.”  The water at Lava Lake was a stunningly deep blue, surrounded by a pristine pine forest.

It was gorgeous.

We sometimes joke that the best part of hiking is eating your lunch at the top.  Definitely not always true, but it might apply here.  How can you not love a sandwich with a view like this?

Water Sports

We did one thing in Bozeman we have never done anywhere else: give our RV a bath!  True story.  The RV is so large that it isn’t easy to wash – most RV parks forbid washing, so it can only be washed in a special truck wash, and those can be expensive.  Because we were constantly on the move, we just never really saw the point.  But after spending months murdering the insect population of the United States with our overhang—and maybe because we were about to see Jake’s family and had to pretend to be adults again—we decided it was finally time.

Armed with a hose, a long-handled sponge, and a beautiful summer day in Montana, we went to work.  It ended up taking the entire day and an exhausting amount of scrubbing, but it looked fantastic when we were done.

Until we drove through the next insect cloud, of course.

Double Time

It took longer than we expected to get to the next insect cloud.  As we headed out of Bozeman, we started to encounter strange issues with the RV and the tow car.  As it was a busy summer Friday, we had to scramble to find a place that could look at the RV on short notice.  It ended up taking about five hours to get everything fixed.

What was the problem?  Well, a fuse was blown up front, something they fixed right away.  But it wasn’t until they had checked everything else out that they realized that one of the “truck” fuses under the hood was missing.  (There are several empty slots and no legend, so we can understand missing it.)  Where did it go?  How could a fuse just jump out of the RV without causing any other problems?

We may never know the answer.  But since we didn’t get the RV back until late in the afternoon, we ended up turning around and staying at the Bozeman Wal-mart.  As it turns out, it was July 1st, and a year to the day exactly after we did something similar on our very first night in the RV.

Caverns

On our way up to Glacier National Park (coming next, and probably not for a while), we stopped off for a day trip at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park.  “Lewis & Clark” had nothing to do with the park – their name gets slapped on a lot of things out West – but the caverns were excellent, well-developed and full of interesting formations.

That said, it was a nice stop-off, but nothing worth making a trip for.  Maybe if we hadn’t been to cave nirvana at the Caverns of Sonora, we would have been more impressed.  As it was, our favorite part was probably the beautiful hike to the entrance, or the gorgeous drive back to the highway.

Pretty awesome.

Now, on to Glacier!

Roadtrip Time Travel

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Roadtrip Status

We’ve reached the end of our roadtrip!  We’re settled down in Denver, but we’re going to keep making blog posts and posting our favorite photos from the trip, so stay tuned for more.

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Week 44: Olympic National Park

We left Portland near the end of April, driving sadly away from the land of food trucks and fast Internet to the far northwest. We made slow time along small, curvy, quiet roads, until we reached our destination: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The region is dominated by Olympic National Park, which fills the center of the broad peninsula with mountains, lakes, and rainforests.

It is stunningly beautiful.

Olympic is a wild place, yet. The forests feel ancient, like remnants of a more primitive time, and the waves crash onto the shore with fury. It won’t last – Seattle is not far, connected by large highways that will, in time, change the park irrevocably, smoothing the raw edges. The transition is inevitable. But right now, it still feels untamed, and we were thrilled to get to peek behind the curtain of civilization at the backdrop of the real, natural world.

It probably helped that it was the off-season.

Hoh Tell

The main draw at Olympic National Park is a scenic drive into the mountains at the heart of the park, particularly Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, because of snow and seasonal closings, that road was closed when were there, so you’ll have to wait until we get to the North Cascades to see some mountains. We did get to see something even cooler, though: the Hoh Rainforest, the wettest place in the continental United States.

Hoh is an epic forest. The trees are covered with moss, huge ropes and blankets of it, and everything is deeply, deeply green – not the bright, kelly green of spring, but something darker and more mysterious. Out of sight of the other visitors, it felt a little spooky.

It was also wet, of course. We spent a lot of time taking off and putting on our raincoats, as rain came in short, steady bursts that always ended just after we got everything out of our packs. We could have left our raincoats on, but it was warm and the humidity was impossibly high, making hiking while covered up very unpleasant.

That said, it was a pretty amazing place to walk around. Like Fern Canyon, it felt positively Jurassic.

As we were leaving, the ranger on duty mentioned we could see Mt. Olympus from the road on the way out. We were a little bummed that the scenic drive was closed, so we followed his directions: drive 17.2 from the visitor center, stand on the painted spot on the asphalt, and look northeast. Well, we dutifully reset out trip odometer, drove 17.2 miles, found the paint spot, and looked northeast, but… no mountain.

Oh well. At least we got to see a lot of moss.

Twilight Beach

On the way back from Hoh, we stopped at a “beach” on the Pacific coast. The scare quotes are because the waves are wicked and wild here, and instead of sand, the beach is littered with giant logs.

How do the logs get there? So glad you asked! They fall over somewhere, get swept down a river to the ocean, then the waves launch them onto shore during storms.  Like the equally wild Cape Perpetua in Oregon, it’s certainly striking, and hey – if you like to tan dangerously, this is the beach for you.

By the way, to get to the coast, we passed through the town of Forks, Washington.  The name sounded familiar, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Then… we saw the sign, and it opened up our eyes.

Yes, Forks and nearby Three Rivers are the setting for the Twilight books and movies. In real life, there isn’t a lot going on – this is pretty remote country, almost as far north and west as you can possibly go in the continental United States. However, we did find the vampire / werewolf “treaty line,” along with a few scattered signs and banners that looked like they had seen better days.

Someday, when today’s tweens are older, this will be a nostalgic vacation getaway spot. For now, we’re sticking with Cabo – the vampire threat level is “high,” after all.

Potpourri

There was lots more to see at Olympic National Park, including the comely Crescent Lake. (Our thesaurus is running low on synonyms for “beautiful,” and we haven’t even hit Utah!) We passed by it every day on our drive, and every time, we just had to stop and take pictures.

We also hiked to Sol Duc Falls, a… pulchritudonous… waterfall with an unusual three-fall design. Looks man-made, but it isn’t (we hope!).

And speaking of threes, we actually thought we found Sol Duc about three times before we go to the real falls – there are a lot of waterfalls here!

Our final visit was to Port Angeles, the big city in this area. We got some great burritos from Little Devil’s Lunchbox (great name) and watched unimaginably giant barges float into the harbor, bound eventually for Seattle or Alaska or Japan or who knows where. The Pacific Northwest is pretty cool like that.  Then, it was on to Seattle.

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Fargo, ND, home of… something, probably.  We’re just happy our Sprint hotspot works again.

Next location?  Bemidji, Minnesota, and the headwaters of the Mississippi.

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